Criterium Racing, a Contact Sport?

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You need to check out the photo below. It is of the altercation between Jake Keough and Rahsaan Bahti at the Dana Point criterium a couple weeks ago. You can find it live here on Insidecycling.TV.

The video seems pretty self explanatory. Cut and dry. I guess there seems to be some ongoing debate on whether it is fair to use a video to judge the altercation. I think we are lucky to have such good footage.

Anyway, I wasn’t at the race and this is probably the end result of an ongoing saga. But, it can’t be allowed. I’ve heard rumors about what happened. Bumping, threats, etc.. from earlier races. But, it really doesn’t matter the cause. There is no excuse. I don’t really know Jake Keough. I’ve not had much contact with him. But, he needs to have a “time out”. A pretty long one at that. Probably for the rest of the season. I don’t know about Rahsaan’s penalty. Most of what he did, other than throw his glasses into the field, wasn’t caught on video.

I’d heard lots of people defending Keough’s aggression justifying it by saying that there needs to be an etiquette respecting the leadout train of United Healthcare and that Rahsaan wasn’t doing that. From my perspective, that is bullshit. This tempo riding to control criterium racing has to stop. There is no place for it here.

There are a lot of things that are going wrong in American criterium racing now. But, by far, the worst problem is the introduction of contact. Somewhere down the line it became somewhat accepted to take your hands off the bars to touch someone. A tap to say, “I’m here”. That progressed into pushing. Usually towards the end of the race. The last couple laps. It is so dangerous. Head butting and elbows are both included in this. It is just wrong.

The leadouts that these teams are doing now are not really leadouts. Look how many laps out that the United Healthcare Team tried to control the race. It can start with 15 laps to go. It is insane.

The normal tactics are this. A team will put all 8 guys on the front and rotate. But, they aren’t going fast. Probably less than 30 mph. Usually not even as fast as the race was going previously. So, the rest of the field is jammed up behind these guys jamming on their brakes before each corner and then having to jump after. A full on interval session multiple times a lap. It is very ugly and dangerous. And the mass at the front keeps the other teams from getting together and getting organized.

Just because a Pro team puts all its riders at the front, especially during a criterium, doesn’t mean that the other riders have to “respect” their tactics. I say just the opposite. If they want to put all their riders on the front and stay there, then they have to back that up and accomplish that by riding fast. Really fast.

If these teams would go to the front when they have the ability to go fast and ride fast, then the whole problem would not occur. A good example is the St. Paul Criterium during Nature Valley last year. Bissell put their whole team at the front the entire race and rode “slow” chopping the field every corner. Then Colivita took over with a lap and a half to go and rode 60kph and there was virtually no one left to sprint. I finished 10th that day and was probably 300 meters behind the winner. That is what a leadout is supposed to be. Something going fast enough that guys like me can’t get involved in the leadout because it is going way too fast.

So, I don’t know who from USAC is going to address the problem. Normally the riders take care of problems like this. But, most the riders now have never experienced anything but what has been going on. I’ve talked to a few people that might have the power, but no one seems to think it is that big of a deal. Maybe they should come to one of these criteriums first hand, especially during a stage race, when the teams are trying to control the field for the GC leader, and witness it first hand. Or, maybe there just needs to be more cameras in the field to “catch” the altercations on video. I don’t know. But, it isn’t going to get any better unless it is addressed quickly and sternly.


15 thoughts on “Criterium Racing, a Contact Sport?

  1. Ritchey_Breakaway

    Sage commentary, Steve. The photo you include clearly shows that the rider in question deviating from the lean of every other rider in the frame. Bahati is protecting his position as best as he can. Not sure how JK gets off scott free on this one.

  2. druber

    Steve you are so right. The “lead out” is a lost art any more. Most races the avg mph drops in the last 3k as opposed to increasing which leads to this “violence”. Is this bike racing or WWF?

  3. sunil kumar

    Just because a Pro team puts all its riders at the front, especially during a criterium, doesn’t mean that the other riders have to “respect” their tactics. I say just the opposite. If they want to put all their riders on the front and stay there, then they have to back that up and accomplish that by riding fast. Really fast.

  4. dew

    I don’t ever remember racing w/Jake K. but have reaced w/Rahsaan B. a couple times and can tell you imo he is dangerous. I’m guessing that Jake was fed up w/him and just flipped out. Pure conjecture on my part.

  5. tilford97 Post author

    The team chopping the field is in reference to the way they ride. They only ride on the inside of the course and swing out at the very last minute to set up for the corner. Then they immediately go back to the inside and repeat the process at every corner. This “tactic” completely screws up the riders behind. Especially when the guys at the front aren’t going fast.

  6. john

    So, another question. Why ride slow behind a slow team? If your team or any team or any group of guys are faster – shouldn’t they be able to break up the slow train?

  7. tilford97 Post author

    The problem is that when a team rides at the front slow, the field behind is in turmoil. The leading team is swinging back and forth across the road before and after each corner. And the first few riders right behind the leading line aren’t having any issue except when they get swarmed. The so called etiquette is what is screwing it all up. The field ends up getting jammed up behind the guys pulling. And, you have to remember that the “train” is usually 8 riders long, so if you are 10 or 15 guys back you have to jump to pass 15 guys before you are at the front. And then what do you do? You can’t ride alone as fast 8 “Professionals”, even if they aren’t going full speed. And, when the field is doing this start, stop, start thing at each corner, it is pretty hard to get your guys to the front. Especially now that radios are banned. This radio ban is going to either make it super hard to organize or super easy to stay organized. I haven’t really seen enough to make a decision on that yet. After Nature Valley, I’ll know a lot more. But, these teams starting their so called leadouts with 10 or more miles to go in a criterium is wrong and dangerous. It used to happen only the last few laps, now during stage races, it starts when the gun is fired. It is total BS. A criterium race is the safest when it is strung out in line. When it is bunched up going through corners 2 or 3 or 4 abreast, then it is dangerous. You can tell in the video that the United Healthcare guys aren’t going fast because of the width of the field. The field is at least 4 abreast going through the corner. Not good when someone falls. Then everyone falls.

  8. Sherkat

    I hate to say this, but I think it is way past time that Steve Tilford is one of the USAC people in charge of meting out penalties and determining sporting criteria…..I know you’re busy, and not ready to hang things up….but….

  9. Tom A

    I couldn’t agree more with Steve’s assessment of the state of today’s crit racing. Steve and I raced together in the late 80’s and early 90’s and in my opinion the racing was much more exciting then. We had the big teams just as there are today but the tactics were much different. It was much more aggressive and I mean more attacking, chasing etc. Today it just seems like the big teams go to the front ride hard or semi-hard and wait for the big train at the end. IMO they all have been watching too much coverage of the Tour and trying to mimic the big leadouts. Very boring and as Steve says, dangerous.

  10. johnboy

    the worst is the current norm of actually sitting on the front and blocking(slowing) the field…

    No one says anything, even the guys that know better..their happy with there wins.

    block and chase… and block again…


  11. webhed38

    Spot on Steve!!! I don’t care if Rashaan was a total %$#@&*%$ before the incident, Jake endagered everyone else in the pack with that move. If you look on youtube, one video shows someone had some pretty serious facial injuries (lawsuit)??? I don’t think United’s idea for being a sponsor was drumming up business directly.
    What can be done? I’m not one for more rules, but how about limiting team entries to 5 or less, relagation for choping corners, and in this case I think a team time out for a few weeks are in order.
    I also second Shercat’s motion…….all in favor????

  12. timmer

    not condoning any actions here but the last 5-10k of a giro stage ARE WHAT A CRITERIUM IS FOR THE ENIRETY OF THE RACE. CRIT RACING IS ABOUT COMMANDING YOUR SPACE. I UNDERSTAND YOUR LEADOUT TRAIN ISSUES BUT IT ENSURES success for the team. if the last kilo of the crit were on a road the width of an airport runway there would be no issues and fastest team would win regardless.. this is a symptom of crit racing. Love it or leave it.

  13. Michael Young

    Ack. Another black eye for crit racing. Is it the Nascar of cycling, where huge wide open tracks keep the fields bunched up and dont allow seperation? Makes me EXTRA thankful for races like Snake Alley and cyclocross.


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